Chapter 03: Gopurams of Kerala Temples
The image of Padmanabha swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram is a familiar one for most of us. With its marvelous 16th Century Gopuram. The fact is this temple is not a pure Kerala style architecture. It is a blend of Kerala, Chola, Pandy & Dravidian styles. And it starts with its entrance. The huge Gopuram we see. Since the presence of these huge multistoried gopuram is not a feature of traditional Kerala temples. Because geographically Kerala temple gopurams were never able to sustain it. And by the end of this chapter, you will know why.
This chapter is about Gopurams of Kerala temples. So let me break this to you at the start. Kerala temples are not known for imposing Gopurams in comparison to the neighboring Dravidian temples. In Kerala the geography, climate and availability of raw materials led them into designing them in a different way visually. On a side note, the symbolic representation of a Gopuram is the Feet of the Deity. So that explains the devotee who bows at the entrance of the temple.
Uniqueness of Kerala Temple Gopurams
Below are some salient features 0f Keralite temple Gopurams in comparison with Dravidian or other Indian styles.
First and foremost, they are never over imposing the main shrine. Simply the height of the Gopurams is rarely higher than he main shrine.
The maximum height is normally 3 stories (Tritala gopuram) and not further mostly. And the wooden Doors normally lead up to the ceiling.
The Gopuram Doorway is normally at the level of the temple walls, in comparison to Dravidian styles where the Doorway is at the center of the Gopuram.
On a designing perspective, the width of the Gopuram is the vital part which will be ten-elevenths of the main temple. Once the width is finalized the other portions of the Gopurams are designed based on it.
Laterite soil being a common source d material in Kerala, has been a major material for construction. The woods and pillars out of Granite & wood.
Another salient feature that differentiates the Gopurams from other styles, is the portico. Sized as one third the width of the temple Gopuram. A possible regional influence, as sit-out, verandah of Kerala houses is a common feature.
The sloping Roofs with Mangalore tiles is unique for Kerala Gopurams. Nowadays these tiles have been replaced or covered with copper plates.
So, coming back to where I started this writeup. Padmabhaswamy and its temple Gopuram which is a Dravidian style Gopuram, experienced the harshness of Kerala’s weather over time. Kerala being prone to 6-7 months rain, cannot sustain Gopurams with deeply intricate designs. Such Gopurams needs good maintenance. Since moisture exposure in those small areas leads to Algae growth. So if you have seen older pictures of this gopuram, you will see a blackened algae instead Gopuram. I myself have witnessed that view in my childhood. We had to wait for technology to develop and provide weatherproof paints to prevent algae.
So, barring those large temples that have big Gopurams, that sometimes double as temple office or storerooms, Kerala temples are less known for marvelous Gopurams. So, if you need to see a pure Kerala style massive Gopuram, look at the Vadakkkumantha Temples Thekke Gopuram at Thrissur, added in this Article.
- Samiksika – Studies of South Indian Architecture
- Entrance gateway of Kerala temples, M. Yamuna V., MARG Institute of Design & Architecture
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